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Artful enforcement: Medora police officer an artist at heart

Press Photo by Bryan Horwath Medora police officer and artist Russ Lapp stands in front of a tree that he plans to sketch at some point Saturday afternoon in Medora. While not on duty enforcing the law in Medora or spending time with his family, Lapp creates western North Dakota-themed artwork.

MEDORA — For sketch artist Russ Lapp, nothing beats the scenic backdrops and ample object and landscape drawing opportunities offered by the North Dakota Badlands.

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An accomplished artist at heart and police officer for the city of Medora by trade, Lapp, a Glendive, Mont., native, has settled in nicely as someone who not only protects and serves, but also serves people’s appetite for unique and beautiful works of art.

“Creating art is something I really enjoy doing,” Lapp said. “I try to put out pieces that are simple, yet meaningful. Being in law enforcement and serving the community is my first priority, but, with art, comes relaxation and it’s a good way to put my mind at ease when I’m not working.”

Mainly a pen and ink artist, Lapp has seen the popularity of his works — which are largely based on Medora, Badlands and western North Dakota — grow in recent years, partly due to local interest and partly due to an expanded online presence for his work.

A knowledgeable online marketer and salesperson, Medora resident Marie Odermann is serving as Lapp’s art broker, helping him to gain visibility for his work on the internet. Some of Lapp’s works are now available for purchase as iPhone and iPad covers, framed pieces and mugs, among other works, on the website

“Russ does some really great work,” Odermann said. “I’m just happy to be able to assist him. He’s a wonderful artist and does some great drawings and works that have local ties. I think people really enjoy his work.”

Growing up, Lapp said he always wanted to be in law enforcement when he got older, but that art has also always been a big part of his life.

“In early childhood, I was creating art and I entered into some grade school competitions,” Lapp said. “Just like being in law enforcement, it’s always been something that I’ve been passionate about. I think, when you enjoy something that much, it’s hard not to share it with people. It’s just a great feeling when someone appreciates your work or tells you that something you made is hanging on the wall at their home.”

Continually striving to capture the essence of the western-themed city of Medora, nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Badlands that encase the Little Missouri River, Lapp’s drawings and watercolor works often feature lonely-looking landscapes and natural settings.

After coming to Medora several years ago, Russ, his wife, Colleen, and the couple’s two children, Samantha and Jesse, have found a home and community they treasure, Russ said.

“I’ve met some fascinating people here,” Russ said. “This is a great community with wonderful people and we’re just blessed to be able to call Medora home. People have been very supportive of my art. I’m right where I want to be because serving the public is just as meaningful as my artwork and this is a great place to create art.”

Russ said he puts out anywhere from five to eight pieces every year — his personal favorite is a drawing called “Ingenuity in Ranching,” which is a sketch of a tree and landscape he remembers from his days growing up in Montana — and he also takes some requests, though, due to time constraints, he simply doesn’t have enough hours in the day to do everything he’d like to do.

Lapp’s work is also available through the website and is featured in some local businesses, including Western Edge Books, a prominent Medora bookstore owned by the city’s mayor, Doug Ellison.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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